Crosslake: Candidates emphasize need for public input
The four city council candidates and two mayoral candidates in Crosslake participated in a public forum Tuesday, Oct. 23, at Crosslake Community School. While they differed on solutions to major community issues, all agreed that more public opinion was a vital part of keeping the city government operating smoothly.
The League of Women Voters hosted the forum, moderated by Wayne Holtmeier. One mayoral candidate and two council candidates will be elected Nov. 6.
Candidates for mayor include incumbent Patty Norgaard and current city council member David Nevin.
Norgaard said that since she became mayor two years ago, her priorities haven't changed. She said topics like healthy lakes, necessary and appropriate infrastructure and a responsible and responsive city government are priorities that come from the head. However, the real reason she is running for re-election is more emotional.
"Why should I be mayor of Crosslake?" she said. "Because Crosslake is my home and has my heart."
Nevin said he chose to run for mayor because he felt that important topics had been falling on deaf ears in the city council, and he wanted to push forward on those issues.
"I've been pretty frustrated with how meetings have gone," said Nevin. "It's a real injustice that happens when things are not openly talked about in the council."
City council candidates include R. Clay Porter, a lawyer from Georgia who is getting involved in government for the first time; Dave Schrupp, a current city council member who has owned property in Crosslake for more than 30 years and lived there full time for more than 20; John Andrews, a longtime resident and medical doctor; and Aaron Herzog, a former Bismarck, North Dakota, police officer and Blaine city employee with 40 years of experience involved in city government.
The candidates were given a list of traits and asked to choose the two most important qualities a city government official should possess.
Four candidates said good communication skills were a top priority.
Schrupp said he required strong management and leadership skills as well as effective communication when he managed multi-million dollar projects in his past as a city employee.
Andrews also mentioned his previous experience related to communication.
"The first step in good communication skills is listening," he said.
Andrews described his experience as a physician learning to listen to and understand his patients. He said that making tough decisions is a large part of working in the medical field, so he is used to taking charge when necessary.
Herzog also said that the ability to make tough decisions was vital to the job, understanding that mistakes are possible but that shouldn't stop a leader from leading.
"We all make mistakes, but you need to live with them and work with them," he said.
Nevin added that when it comes to disputes, "you have to look people in the eye."
Several candidates placed strength of character highest on their list of priorities.
Porter said character takes both top spots on his list.
"If people don't trust you, nothing is going to get done," he said, adding that the city council has to work together.
Norgaard said strong character is based on integrity and listening. She said there should always be an opportunity for leaders to keep learning.
Government facility upgrades
For many Crosslake residents, one of the most pressing issues the city faces is the need for upgrades to the building housing city hall, the police department, fire department and emergency services. According to a recent report by Five Bugles Design on the condition of the complex, fulfilling all of their recommendations on space and equipment needs would cost an estimated $12.7 million.
The city council and mayoral candidates across the board voiced an intention to lower the cost of any projects related to this issue.
"I want people to get '$12.7 million' out of their heads," said Norgaard.
She said the process has just begun, and City Administrator Mike Lyonais is heading a task force to come up with a solution that would better fit Crosslake's budget.
Herzog said that while the sticker shock was frightening, something does still have to take place.
"People's eyes got big at that dollar figure," he said. "You could just see people's ears getting turned off."
He said the task force will be key to the whole project, and they need to come back with specifics regarding any renovation or new building before moving any further.
Many candidates said they wanted more open communication on the subject from either the design company, the council or the public.
Andrews said he thinks the public needs to better understand what the current deficiencies are before a decision can be reached. He also recognized that not everyone feels comfortable sharing their opinion in a formal council meeting setting.
"Major communication is needed so the council can reach a consensus," he said. "The more we can try different methods, the better."
Porter also said he was in favor of bringing more community input to the table, but that the burden shouldn't rely solely on the public.
"The council needs to decide when communication will occur," he said. "There are points ... where 'we can't do anything because there isn't enough community input' becomes a way of just not making a decision."
Schrupp said he wants more discussion with the designers at Five Bugles.
"I can't support spending that much right now," he said. "I don't know fully what they're talking about. We need to review everything they're asking for, question every turn."
He also pushed for taking a closer look at existing facilities before building new structures.
Nevin was the most staunchly opposed to every part of the Five Bugles proposal.
"I am absolutely opposed to anything close to what they're proposing," he said. "We could remodel, rejuvenate or put a couple additions on that building for far less than what they're talking about."
Nevin turned his focus to the former school building and land next to the current city facility. He said it is an opportunity to which the city is turning a blind eye. He reiterated that Norgaard knew the land was for sale since January, and said he believes it was an injustice that she chose not to bring that information to the council. He had expressed this sentiment at previous council meetings.
All candidates acknowledged that Crosslake had been running fairly efficiently while on a tight budget. They agreed that there are not many ways to cut the current budget, but rather wanted to look for ways to minimize future spending on projects such as the municipal facilities.
Another significant project Crosslake faces is expansion of the sewer system. Even with the potential expansion, the system would not be able to reach every property owner, but the bond payment would come from property taxes everyone pays, whether they directly benefit from the system or not.
Herzog said he absolutely supports the idea of expanding the sewer system because it is a necessary investment. He said there should still be a discussion about exactly how much of the burden would fall to taxpayers, however, before the plan could go into action.
Andrews agreed with Herzog.
"The question is, how much would be paid by all property owners and how much would be paid by just the property owners that benefit?" he said.
Schrupp called on his expertise with the Public Works Department and said Director Ted Strand is in the process of setting up workshops to discuss this particular subject.
Norgaard said the city is just starting to learn about options and will bring more information to the community.
"The council does not want to make all of these decisions by themselves," she said. "You are the ones that pay taxes; you are the ones that will benefit."
Nearly 100 people attended the candidate forum, which lasted an hour and a half and consisted of pre-written questions as well as audience submissions.